Fun Home The Musical is really really good.

October 8th, 2013 | Other Projects

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I am still trying to figure out how to describe the surreal experience of seeing my memoir Fun Home, and thus my real life childhood and family, turned into a musical. I have not been closely involved in the evolution of this thing but have seen two versions of it in the past couple of years. I could tell it was amazing, but I also knew that I couldn’t possibly have any objectivity about such a project. And I could also see that a musical is a staggeringly complex, collaborative behemoth, entailing levels of creative risk and patience that are unthinkable to me.

It’s still in previews at The Public Theater. The creative team (Sam Gold, director; Jeanine Tesori, composer; Lisa Kron, writer and lyricist) are still tweaking things, and the actors have to keep learning all these constant changes. But it will at long last take a final form and open on October 22nd. I saw it last weekend. It’s hard, as I say, for me to describe this experience. There are two parts—one, my own personal emotional response to seeing what feels like a very faithful representation of my family come to life on the stage. And then there’s the other part which is not quite separate from the first part because my parents already felt like fictional characters to me—and that part is just how beautiful this play is as an aesthetic experience, how neatly it fits together and how deep its own emotional resonance is.

fun home family

Here’s a picture of me and my real life brothers with the stage version of our parents–Judy Kuhn and Michael Cerveris. It’s so odd.

But the play is totally worth seeing if you can manage it. Here’s the Public Theater’s calendar where you can click through to get tickets. For previews shows, there’s a discount code: ALISON.

47 Responses to “Fun Home The Musical is really really good.”

  1. sheila markin says:

    Alison. Linda told me she and Marie will see Fun Home at the end of the month. I asked about your feelings about this production and am so glad that you thought it was well done on many levels. Congratulations to all concerned, Sheila

  2. Therry and St. Jerome says:

    I am so glad you feel good about this project. Me, I would feel a bit freaked at seeing my parents and my sibs on the stage singing and dancing to words I had written. That’s why you’re the artist that you are. Takes a lot of courage and not a little healthy ego-less-ness to handle this. The Buddha nature within me salutes the Buddha nature within you. Which is what I say to my teacher whenever I leave the fitness studio.

  3. Fi says:

    The actors and other theatricals involved in staging your memoir must have been nervously wondering – and then so relieved – at your personal and thoughtful response to their production, Alison. A coup all round.

    Meanwhile from here, south of the equator and sadly with no generously endowed travel fund for the cultural pursuits we covet – my girl and I read jealously of others getting to see the play…. Oh well.

  4. Fun Home The Musical was wonderful. It’s incredible to see such a complex, deep, moving memoir, already innovative in form, spin yet again in another dimension. I, for one, won’t ever forget the delightful Fun Home ad and lil Alison’s ode to the woman with the keys, which were playful add-ons to the opportunity to revisit the original captions of the text without re-reading them. Instead, they were sung out to me, and they sure did resonate in the crowded theatre.

  5. Glenn I says:

    If it weren’t an entire continent away I’d be buying a ticket tonight. Congratulations!

  6. Hazel Vaabara says:

    We saw it last week–I was afraid, since I loved the book so much and could hardly imagine how it could become a musical, but it was FABULOUS, exceeding all expectations. The entire (sold out) audience laughed, cried, and cheered throughout. Sydney Lucas as the young Alison is particularly amazing. Best production I’ve seen in NY in ages.

  7. Mentor says:

    [If you click [HERE] there’s a nice article on the Playbill website about FHtM.

    If you click [HERE] you’ll find a gallery of still photos from the show.

    –Mentor]

  8. I was one of the ones who won a pair of tickets through your blog giveaway, and I am happy to say that I loved the show. I saw it this past Sunday at 3:00 with a former student who was in the first class where I taught the book. We weren’t sure how it could be turned into a musical, but it stunned us both. I am so happy I had the chance to see it and so happy such a great book was transformed into a great musical.

  9. katelambert@gmail.com says:

    Congrats to all involved in Fun Home, The Musical! 🙂 And, Nels (#8), I have to admit that I envy you. Sadly, no one would want to see a musical based on a book that I taught in class. A musical named Natural Disasters? I think not!

  10. NLC says:

    katelabert #9 writes:
    “A musical named Natural Disasters? I think not!”

    I don’t know about this. Assasins? Sweeney Todd?

    Perhaps you should forward a copy of your text to Stephen Sondheim…

    (For that matter, Titanic? Miss Saigon? There may be a librettist credit waiting for you here.)

  11. Mary Kline says:

    does anyone know if Alison has been a guest on the 3 morning radio programs Diane Rehm, Fresh Air, and/or Democracy Now? That is, ever?

    [I’ll let AB correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty certain that the answer in all three cases is “no”. –Mentor]

  12. Mentor says:

    [Some items of interest on the Events calendar above:

    For folks in Wisconsin: AB will be appearing Tues (15Oct) at Lawrence University in Appleton.

    For folks in Ohio: AB will be appearing Thur (17Oct) at College of Wooster.
    Ditto at Denison University next Tues (22Oct).

    — Mentor]

  13. Kate L says:

    NLC (#10), Ah, but all the great natural disaster lyrics are already taken:

    Ma, Ma, the Atomical Bomb
    Just Went Off, Right Behind the Hayloft!
    Pa, Where’s Pa, Now, What Do We Do?
    Head For the Root Cellar,
    I’m Right Behind You!
    Run, Run, Run Little Sister,
    Outrun the Storm, Outrun the Twister!

    – Rainmakers, Tornado, 1987

  14. Alex K says:

    @11 — FRESH AIR was broadcast in the afternoon when I lived in the States, so perhaps I recall something not relevant to your query, or have confabulated it entirely!, but my false memory of listening to a conversation between AB and Terry Gross is very strong.

    Or it could have been Maurice Sendak with Terry G. Someone iconic, for sure, though.

  15. No, I’ve never been interviewed by the triumfeminate of public radio.

    Must have been Maurice Sendak you’re remembering, Alex.

  16. Alex K says:

    @15 — Thanks!

    Hmmm. Maybe the conversation was not broadcast, but overheard. I don’t remember anything else, though, about the cocktail party that I now have to postulate — the one that AB, TG, and I all attended — at which I eavesdropped on the TG – AB conversation.

    Doesn’t rule out the MS hypothesis, though. He used to cadge invitations shamelessly, and crash parties when he couldn’t get an invite. To learn that he’d elbowed his way into my imaginary cocktail party would not surprise me at ALL.

  17. Kate L says:

    NASA’s solar powered Juno* spacecraft swung by the Earth a few days ago to gain speed to reach Jupiter. It suffered a malfunction as it did so, and went into what NASA engineers called “SafeMode”. It’s back on line, now. I guess congress tried to shut it down when it swung by. The space . com story is HERE.

    * Juno is named for an ancient Greek goddess, not the movie icon. Of course, NASA also claims its Deep Impact comet probe wasn’t named for a movie.

  18. makky says:

    In response to Alison Bechdel never having “guested” on any of the Ladys’ NPR programs: Shit Fuck Wow. Let me repeat that: Shit Fuck Wow

  19. Dr.Empirical says:

    Kate! The Rainmakers are still together! I haven’t heard from them in YEARS! Their first album was a Masterwork, but their second was a huge disappointment. I never heard from them again. Did they find their feet?

  20. Kate L says:

    Dr. Empirical (#19) The Rainmakers are sort of back together. It’s like how Peter, Paul and Mary put out an album each year for decades, but I didn’t notice after the early 70’s. But, to paraphrase George Carlin, the early 70’s were very, very good to me. 🙂

    The Wind Took,
    The Ground Shook,
    Me and My Baby
    Traded One Last Look

    – Rainmakers, Tornado (1987)

  21. Mentor says:

    [Just to let folks know, the run of FHtM has been extended through 17Nov.

    Additional details [HERE] –Mentor]

  22. Tiezesty says:

    Alison, will you still be at tonight’s performance?

  23. Alison says:

    Yes! I will be there tonight.

  24. Alex K says:

    Don’t know if this is fair use — Mentor? — but the NYTimes review, which glows, is pasted below.

    THEATER REVIEW
    Family as a Hall of Mirrors
    ‘Fun Home,’ a New Musical at the Public Theater

    Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
    Cast members in “Fun Home,” adapted from the Alison Bechdel memoir by the playwright Lisa Kron and the composer Jeanine Tesori, at the Public Theater.
    By BEN BRANTLEY
    Published: October 22, 2013
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    At moments during “Fun Home,” the beautiful heartbreaker of a musical that opened on Tuesday night at the Public Theater, you may feel you’ve developed quadruple vision, and not just because your eyes are misted with tears. It’s also a matter of those three actresses playing the same character at different ages, a device that usually feels strained in theater, but here comes off as naturally as breathing.
    Overview
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    Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
    Fun Home Sydney Lucas and Michael Cerveris in this musical at the Public Theater.
    Then there’s that fourth party, someone who is so clearly cut from the same genetic cloth that you have to blink whenever he shares a stage with any or all of those actresses. It’s Daddy, portrayed in searing style by Michael Cerveris, a person whom his daughter, the middle-aged Alison (Beth Malone), will be living with and reincarnating forever.

    The title of “Fun Home,” adapted by the playwright Lisa Kron and the composer Jeanine Tesori from Alison Bechdel’s wonderful graphic memoir, is a cozy abbreviation for the small-town Pennsylvania funeral home that Daddy runs. It also refers to the Bechdel family’s Victorian house, which Daddy is endlessly restoring with a perfectionist’s tyranny.

    But, more broadly, this musical’s setting is one of those halls of mirrors, both familiar and unique, where most of us grew up. It’s a place where the images of who you once were always linger, and where, no matter how hard you try, you can’t look at anyone else without seeing some of yourself. Such is the curse and the comfort of belonging to a family.

    Like Tennessee Williams’s “Glass Menagerie,” now in a revelatory revival on Broadway, “Fun Home” is framed by the questing recollections of an artist, in this case a cartoonist who turns the shadows of her past into pen and ink. This is not to imply that the people thus summoned are anything less than flesh and blood.

    If many American musicals these days seem to turn their inhabitants into cartoons, this show, inspired by a comic-strip-style book, has paradoxically created characters who are highly multidimensional. “Fun Home,” splendidly directed by Sam Gold, uses the ineffability of music and the artifice of theater to conjure a fourth dimension, that element of the unknowable that exists in all of us. (David Zinn’s sets and costumes, Ben Stanton’s lighting and Jim Findlay and Jeff Sugg’s projections ingeniously keep us both fixed in time and afloat in timelessness.)

    This work is a detective story of sorts, in which one woman tries to solve the mystery of who her father, now dead, really was, and what, in turn, that makes her. We see the adult Alison (Ms. Malone expertly turns seeming self-effacement into penetrating presence) working on her graphic memoir, and it isn’t just a matter of arranging known facts. Alison sums those up at the beginning: “Caption: Dad and I both grew up in the same small Pennsylvania town. And he was gay, and I was gay, and he killed himself, and I became a lesbian cartoonist.”

    But that’s not the whole story, or even necessarily the true story. As she revisits her childhood and college years, consulting the journals she seems to have started keeping as soon as she could write, Alison the artist presents us with alternative interpretations of equal weight.

    Make your own call. “Fun Home” allows us to meet Daddy, named Bruce (Mr. Cerveris), in person. And we see how he interacts with his wife, Helen (Judy Kuhn, in an excellent study of internalized resentment); his young sons (the delightful Griffin Birney and Noah Hinsdale); and an assortment of the young men who caught his eye over the years (all persuasively played by Joel Perez).

    Most important, though, we see Bruce interacting with the younger incarnations of Alison, embodied as a child by the uncanny Sydney Lucas and as an Oberlin College student by the gorgeously awkward Alexandra Socha. (Roberta Colindrez is pretty much perfect as Alison’s first girlfriend.) An English teacher as well as a funeral director, Bruce has a special, ambivalent bond with his precocious daughter.

    Ms. Kron has already established herself as a vibrant family memoirist with her plays “2.5 Minute Ride” and “Well,” and her book and resonantly precise lyrics give this show its essential spine. As we watch Alison struggling to see Daddy clearly, we also witness her coming to terms with her sexual identity, which happily embraces two glorious solos performed by Ms. Lucas and Ms. Socha. But “Fun Home” isn’t just a coming out story or a coming-of-age story.

    Its universality comes from its awareness of how we never fully know even those closest to us, and of the undercurrent of grown-up secrets, intuited by children, that exists to some degree in every family. In her best and most varied score to date, Ms. Tesori (“Violet,” “Caroline, or Change”) captures that haunting ambiguity.

    Her work here is both melodically sentimental and prickly with dissonance and tension. She layers contrapuntal voices to evoke every family’s aspirations to complete harmony and the impossibility of achieving it. Ms. Tesori also makes witty use of the sounds of the 1960s and ’70s, the decades in which Alison grows up, in two delightful fantasy numbers.

    Ms. Tesori’s most complex musical portraiture, though, is reserved for the divided self of Bruce, with melodies that change moods — from crisp, fatherly propriety to growling, guttural lust — subtly and disturbingly. Mr. Cerveris, an immortally mad “Sweeney Todd” on Broadway, is as compelling as the more intricately angry Bruce, who erupts in ways that keep his family forever off-balance. His final number is a white-hot epiphany of a savage joy beyond reason, and Mr. Cerveris rides it to the stars.

    “Children begin by loving their parents,” Oscar Wilde wrote. “After a time they judge them. Rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.” Every phase of that epigram seems to be taking place simultaneously in “Fun Home.” But this show has room for forgiveness, too. It knows that in those endless enigmas we call family, judgments are never final, and love never fades altogether. Within such uncertainty, “Fun Home” finds a shining clarity that lights up the night.

    Fun Home

    Music by Jeanine Tesori; book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, based on the book by Alison Bechdel; directed by Sam Gold; sets and costumes by David Zinn; lighting by Ben Stanton; sound by Kai Harada; projections by Jim Findlay and Jeff Sugg; wig design by Paul Huntley; music director, Chris Fenwick; orchestrations by John Clancy; music contractor, Antoine Silverman; choreography by Danny Mefford; production stage manager, Lisa Dawn Cave; associate artistic director, Mandy Hackett; associate producer, Maria Goyanes; general manager, Steven Showalter; production executive, Ruth E. Sternberg. Presented by the Public Theater, Oskar Eustis, artistic director; Patrick Willingham, executive director. At the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, at Astor Place, East Village, (212) 967-7555, publictheater.org. Through Nov. 17. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes.

    WITH: Griffin Birney (Christian), Michael Cerveris (Bruce), Roberta Colindrez (Joan), Noah Hinsdale (John), Judy Kuhn (Helen), Sydney Lucas (Small Alison), Beth Malone (Alison), Joel Perez (Roy/Others) and Alexandra Socha (Medium Alison).
    A version of this review appears in print on October 23, 2013, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: Family As a Hall Of Mirrors.

  25. Mentor says:

    [I started compiling a list of links to various reviews for FHtM, but gave up after the first six. So [HERE] is a link to a page listing several reviews.

    (I feel like the stock character in a 1940s film-musical who, at 4AM, bursts into the bar where the cast is anxiously waiting following opening night, lugging a pile of hot-off-the-press newspapers and shouting “Here you go, guys. They loved it!!”) –Mentor]

  26. […] Alison Bechdel posted Fun Home The Musical is really really good. […]

  27. Martha Sullivan says:

    Or check the Times review directly at this link:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/23/theater/reviews/fun-home-a-new-musical-at-the-public-theater.html?nl=nyregion&emc=edit_ur_20131023&_r=0

    It’s got pictures!

    And, wow, I’ve seldom seen the Times give such a rave review. Congrats to all parties.

    xoxo,

    Martha

  28. Mentor says:

    [More links for FHtM:

    [Photos from post-opening night celebration]

    [Video clips]

    –Mentor]

  29. Kate L says:

    Mentor, #26… no, no, you should picture yourself saying (in a 1930’s theatrical voice), “Here ya go, you mugs – get a gander at these rave reviews, hot off the presses!”

  30. Alex K says:

    How odd, Mentor! The Googlepage link states – no reviews.

    [Weird (I guess it timed out somehow).
    Well, on the page, Google
    fun home reviews then go to the first (non-ad) link and click on the link that says “all 34 news sources”. –Mentor]

    [P.S. [HERE] is another (but not exhaustive) list of reviews (I’ve modified the link above). –Mentor^2]

  31. Mentor says:

    [Update re:#21 above:

    The run of FHtM has been (re-)extended to Dec 1 –Mentor]

  32. Kate L says:

    Mentor, in a 1930’s suit and a fedora hat, enters holding the latest edition of the New York Gazette, “Guess what, you mugs have been held over by popular demand!”

    Btw, our new department chair from Britain seems to be settling in. I was flipping thru television channels last weekend, when I thought I saw her on TV! Only, I couldn’t figure out why Pierce Brosnan kept calling her “M”.

  33. Alex K says:

    Touring companies — West End production, with AB on the red carpet in Leicester Square — finally, licensure to high schools. And GLEE.

    You know it’s all around the next bend in the road.

  34. Ellen Orleans says:

    I just ordered a ticket to Fun Home for November 27th! I feel so lucky that I decided, back in the spring, to fly to New York for my father’s Thanksgiving birthday this year. What fortuitous timing. Anyone else going for the pre-Thanksgiving matinee?

  35. Kate L says:

    How did our bloggers in Britain and continental Europe deal with stormageddon?

  36. Mame says:

    So, are there soundtrack albums??? That song “Swagger” is an ANTHEM!!!

  37. Mentor says:

    [Swedish cinema rating system based on ‘Bechdel Test’: [CLICK HERE] –Mentor]

  38. ponygirl says:

    Just read this in the Guardian online:

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/06/swedish-cinemas-bechdel-test-films-gender-bias

    “You expect movie ratings to tell you whether a film contains nudity, sex, profanity or violence. Now cinemas in Sweden are introducing a new rating to highlight gender bias, or rather the absence of it.

    To get an A rating, a movie must pass the so-called Bechdel test, which means it must have at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man.

    “The entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, all Star Wars movies, The Social Network, Pulp Fiction and all but one of the Harry Potter movies fail this test,” said Ellen Tejle, the director of Bio Rio, an art-house cinema in Stockholm’s trendy Södermalm district.” . . . 🙂

  39. Kate L says:

    Holey Smoley, the Bechdel test now joins the Chi-squared test and the Kruskal-Wallis test as essential means of evaluating our world! As we say on the High Plains, hip-hip! 🙂

  40. Pam I says:

    The Independent has the same story today. The comments, like those even more so in the Grauniad, are a chorus of wails and toys cascading out of prams. They Just Dont Get It do they?

    BTW I think every time the Bechdel test is mentioned in commercial media, they should reproduce the original DTWOF cartoon so Alison gets paid, instead of getting a passing credit. Anyone got a handy link?

  41. LondonBoy says:

    Yay for the formal implementation of the Bechdel Test, at least in Sweden. Now all we need is for the other 194 countries in the world to do the same!

    Kate L: “Stormageddon” is something of a specialist interest over here – you have to be a hard-core Doctor Who fan to even recognise the name. For those who don’t remember, Alfie Evans, the baby featured in Doctor Who episode “Closing Time”, prefers to be known as “Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All”. He calls his mother “Mum”, his father “Not Mum”, and the Doctor “Also Not Mum”.

    If you mean the storm that’s currently hitting the Philippines (winds up to 195mph), I suspect that, parochially, we in the UK are not really paying much attention. It also got a bit breezy over here a couple of weeks ago, but I think we’ve all forgotten about that now.

  42. Mentor says:

    [Here’s a story about the Swedish rating system that played on NPR’s morning edition yesterday (7Nov):
    [The Story With a link to the Audio]
    [Just the Audio]

    (P.S. Perhaps we should establish a “Second Bechdel Test”;
    i.e. whether or not they pronounce “Bechdel” properly.) –Mentor]

  43. Kate L says:

    LondonBoy (#42) Although I am a fan of Dr. Who since 1980, the stormageddon I meant referred to the hurricane-force winds that recently swept thru Britain and the rest of western Europe. I’m about to tell my students about the English Windstorm of 1703 (Daniel Defoe’s account of the windstorm was his first claim to fame), so bringing in the recent windstorm is something I plan to do. The bad thing about teaching a course in natural disasters is that there are always more natural disasters to talk about. I was just putting the finishing touches on slides for next week about Super Typhoon Haiyan and the Philippines.

  44. Pam I says:

    @ KateL, my borough lost 70 trees, one of which crashed across a bus, but as it was 6 in the morning no-one was hurt. I proudly claim the rescue of a young street tree in my road, it had been blown to about 70degrees and would have fallen right over shortly. I did a temp staking job, and it’s now been properly staked and will live to fight another day. That’s my only storm story.

  45. LondonBoy says:

    Kate L:

    In my part of London there were a couple of trees down, but not much in the way of serious damage. I have the impression that the damage was worse further west.

    If you’re planning to discuss storms in England, I hope you will consider mentioning the Great Storm of 1987, which was probably worse than this year’s event.

    I don’t know the age or mathematical/scientific training of your students, but if they have some mathematical skills it might be interesting to consider the relative frequencies of storms (and other natural disasters) of different magnitudes. There’s been a lot of interesting statistical work done in this area.

  46. Joy says:

    I was very nervous when I sat down to watch this show–even though I have such respect for Sam, Lisa, and Jeanine Tesori–because I couldn’t imagine how you could translate the emotional complexity and tonal precision that make the book so brilliant into the form of a musical….which so often flatten, exaggerate, romanticize, simplify. I was so wrong. I love love loved this show. Congratulations.